Approaching Ulysses


Something I’ve been working on inadvertently for a while now is reading the Modern Library’s 100 greatest novels and non-fiction books.  I have not really been actively pursuing it, but rather just crossing some off my list when I finally got around to reading them.  One thing that I want to do within the next year is to start actively trying to cross more books off the list and finally read the ones that I’ve been avoiding.

Last weekend, I opened the list and of course, the first book, glaring me in the eyes is Ulysses by James Joyce.  It’s the end of the semester and I do seem to have a lot more free time, so I decided, okay.  I’m going to tackle this one now.  No more putting it off.  So I went to the St. Cloud Public Library, borrowed the book, along with a few others (wishful thinking), and set off to finally read Ulysses.

I started off by reading some reviews on Good Reads.  The reviews are some of the most varied I’ve seen regarding a book on the site.  There were a lot of “5 stars” with people siting it as a literary masterpiece (of course).  Then again, there were a lot of “1 stars” with people saying they dropped it in the bathtub and weren’t upset about it.  Literary masterpiece or not, I was quite intimidated.

I sat down and opened up the book.  First episode: so far, so good.  I understood mostly everything, but I had to look up a translation of the Latin phrases.  While I was searching, I found some online resources specifically related to the book where I could get a episode synopsis and a list explaining the allusions.  So there I sat, with the book open, my laptop open, and an online dictionary open for some of the more obsolete vocabulary.  I was well armed.

On one of my reading breaks, I was googling through some further online resources about Ulysses and came across a few websites that cited the fourth episode as one that usually turned people away because it was such a confusing stream of consciousness.  Oh no.  I was almost to the fourth episode.  Was it going to turn me away from this obstinate book?  Further googling brought me across a blog that totally changed my view of Ulysses.

The blog confirmed that yes, the fourth episode is the most intimidating.  But, it said, why not just skip over the fourth episode if it is really dragging you down?  Why not just put away all of the reading guides and translations, why not just enjoy the book for what it is and don’t worry if you don’t understand all the allusions?  Hey, I said to myself, they’re right.  If I’m enjoying what I read, and I can make some sense of it, isn’t that the point?  Not to understand every word and get muddled in the intricacies of the thing, but to really just read it and enjoy it.  That made the 700 plus pages seem more manageable.

Guess what… I made it past the 4th episode!  With my new philosophy, its really not too bad.  I’m just trying to enjoy it and gleam what I can from it.  There are 18 episodes in all (I am told from online sources) and if I try to read one every couple of days, reading this book will not take my entire lifetime to complete.  Thank you random reading-positive blogger.  You made my goal seem within reach!


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